The following blog post summarizes Monique Hannam’s note, Soy Dominicano – The Status of Haitian Descendants Born in the Dominican Republic and Measures to Protect Their Right to a Nationality (47 Vand. J. Transnat’l L. 1123 (2014)). Read the full article here.
The Dominican Republic has recently taken the experience of having a complicated relationship with the next-door neighbors to a new level. On September 25, 2013, it retroactively denied citizenship to children of Haitian immigrants who were born in the Dominican Republic after 1929. This problematic decision came after Juliana Pierre, the daughter of two Haitian cane farmers, was denied a Dominican national identification card. After her application for the identification was denied, Pierre appealed to the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal. Prior to this decision, now known as the Pierre decision, the Dominican Constitution entitled people born within the territory to Dominican nationality unless their parents were diplomats or foreigners in transit. Upon Pierre’s appeal, the Tribunal surprisingly decided to reinterpret the Dominican Constitution. The new interpretation designated illegal residents as foreigners in transit, and, since the Tribunal held that her parents were illegal residents at the time of her birth, Pierre was not entitled to Dominican nationality under the constitution.
The Pierre decision has undoubtedly further strained the historically tumultuous relationship between the neighboring countries. Haitians have long perceived the Dominican Republic to be decidedly “anti-Haitian” and this decision is certainly adding fuel to that fire. The looming fear borne by the hundreds of thousands of Haitian descendants in the aftermath of Pierre is simple: statelessness. Statelessness, or uncertain nationality, prevents minors from receiving education, health care, and other public benefits and can be equally detrimental for similarly situated adults.
While states reserve the right to determine their own criteria for nationality, the Pierre decision has received global criticism for being both arbitrary and discriminatory. The Dominican government attempted to mitigate the harsh consequences of the Pierre decision by passing Law 169-14, which recognizes those individuals who received Dominican birth registration between 1929 and 2007 as Dominican citizens. However, because the determination of Dominican citizenship in the legislation turns on certain proof of “official registration” rather than whether the person was actually born within the Dominican Republic, Law 169-14 ignores the fundamental problem of the Pierre decision—the retroactive denial of legal citizenship based on place of birth if the individual was born to migrant parents lacking formal status. Thus, not only does Pierre adversely affect the human rights of thousands of Haitian immigrants, it generates legal uncertainty with respect to the new naturalization regime.
Much of the Dominican government’s resistance to the international effort to influence its domestic nationality law can be attributed to the fact that neither international law nor regional customs require states to extend citizenship to everyone born within their territory. However, the freedom to define the criteria for nationality does not in turn give states the freedom to arbitrarily and discriminatorily render thousands of people stateless. This Note proposes that the Dominican government legally distinguishes between Haitians born in the Dominican Republic and Haitians born elsewhere. It also recommends that the government automatically recognize people born in the Dominican Republic prior to 2010 as Dominican nationals. Furthermore, it proposes that the Dominican government provide for expedited processing for minors and special assistance to parents affected by the Pierre decision. Lastly, it proposes that the policies and procedures for authenticating Dominican birth be simplified and made more accessible and reasonable. The thousands of Haitians affected by the Pierre decision are looking to the international community for help in ensuring that changes like the ones proposed in this Note materialize. Ultimately, their enjoyment of basic human rights depends on the collective effort of international community.